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Migrant Workers and White Supremacy in Comstock Township: How Local TV news reported on last night’s meeting

December 18, 2018

One of the main things that TV news does is to focus on conflicts. This is exactly what three of the four West Michigan TV stations did with how they reported on a meeting last night at the Comstock Township Board.

WOOD TV 8, WXMI 17 and WWMT 3 all reported on a meeting that took place last night, a meeting that was prompted by a racist and xenophobic flyer that was distributed  saving that people should “Help Stop the migrant bus from becoming the most common sight in our community.”

The local TV news coverage goes to great lengths to inform viewers that many people in Comstock Township (just East of Kalamazoo) did not want migrant workers in their community. The channel 8 online headline reads, “Some upset over greenhouse’s migrant worker housing,” Fox 17’s online headline reads “Community concerned about migrant workers coming legally to work at local greenhouse,” and channel 3’s online headline states, “Comstock residents sound off over migrant worker housing plan.” The content of what aired on TV locally was worse.

WOOD TV 8 framed the issue as “people giving their opinions about migrant workers.” In addition, WOOD TV 8 kept saying that “word got out about migrant workers being housed in Comstock Township, but the reality is that the large turnout was the result of the racist and xenophobic flyer that was circulating in the community.

Viewers heard from several people, but there were essentially two white women who were given a platform to speak. One was the owner of the greenhouse and one was a woman who said that she was concerned about the safety of her children, since a group of migrant men would be now living in her neighborhood.

What WOOD TV 8 essentially did was to provide this white woman a license to express white supremacist views. There is no evidence that the channel 8 reporter questioned her afterwards about these views and channel 8 no doubt felt that they were just providing air time to someone’s point of view.

WOOD TV 8 also did not bother to talk about what the H 2A migrant worker program was and how it worked.

Fox 17 newsreaders framed the issue as “migrant workers coming to the community” at the beginning of their story. The Fox 17 reporter begins by stating that there were no local rental regulations in Comstock Township, but failed to mention that last month the Township Board did pass an ordinance granting the greenhouse company to rent to H 2 A workers. 

The greenhouse owner was also interviewed and she also used language that was questionable in regards to migrant workers. This interview was followed by comments from a local resident who is concerned about their property values. This woman stated that it would be all men coming, no families and then says that there have been families before and “I still had trouble with people,” which is another white supremacist perspective. The same White woman who was given voice on channel 8, was also given air time on WXMI 17 to articulate her racist views. Fox 17 did give a fe seconds to a woman who was calling out this behavior was racist against migrant workers, but then channel 17 sandwiched her comments from the same white woman with white supremacist views who stated:

“I don’t care where these people come from. These people are coming to work, and I understand that there’s a need for workers, but not on my road, not in my community, not where my kids live, not where my kids play.”

Of the three TV stations, WWMT channel 3 did provided better coverage, but the first voice we hear is another white woman stating, “it’s just a nice community to live in and we’d like to keep it that way.

WWMT 3 did acknowledge that the township had passed an ordinance recently to allow the greenhouse to house migrant workers and followed that up with comments from the greenhouse owner. These comments also brought up the H 2A migrant worker program and this was the first time that it was stated that Mexican workers would be coming.

Eva Alvarez, with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, was given some airtime to speak about the H 2A program and she emphasized that this was a government program and that the workers coming would be legal.

Channel 3 also acknowledged the racist flyer and stated that “without evidence, the flyer stated that the camp would become a safety concern.” In addition, channel 3 was the only station to provide evidence that there were several people, including civil rights activists, who came to speak out against the racist flyer.

Unfortunate, the coverage overall was pretty awful, primarily because it provided a platform for white supremacist views. In addition, the coverage did not adequately provide a clear understanding of what the H 2A worker visa program was about, a program that has been in place since 1986. By not providing adequate context for the migrant worker program, the local TV news coverage fed into the current political climate, where immigrants are viewed as violent criminals.

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